The purpose of the comment period is to allow interested members of the public to communicate information, concerns, and criticisms to the agency during the rule-making process. If the notice of proposed rule-making fails to provide an accurate picture of the reasoning that leads the agency to the proposed rule, interested parties cannot comment meaningfully upon the agency's proposals. An agency commits serious procedural error when it fails to reveal portions of the technical basis for a proposed rule in time to allow for meaningful commentary.
After a fire at a nuclear power plant, a NRC report recommended improved fire protection standards. The NRC developed technical guidelines for evaluating the fire safety of both new and operating nuclear plants. Because of disagreements, NRC embarked on the challenged rule making. The power and light company challenged the NRC's adoption of a stringent fire protection program for nuclear power plants in service before January 1, 1979.
Under the Administrative Procedure Act, does an agency engage in proper rulemaking when the agency provides procedures that permit useful participation in the notice-and-comment process?
The court affirmed the fire protection regulations as adopted by NRC. The court reluctantly upheld the regulations because, at almost every step of the way, NRC's procedures were not exemplary. The notice of the proposed rule making was cursory and gave the industry the minimum opportunity to respond. The agency's statement of the basis for the program and its final form provided limited technical guidance. However, the fire protection with the exemption procedure was not a radical departure from the program as it was developed after the original fire and as originally proposed. With the exemption procedure, power plants could show that alternative fire protection systems protected the public safety at the same high level as the system chosen by NRC.